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WashPost: In Afghanistan, why does counterinsurgency work in some places but not others?

Author: Rajiv Chandrasekaran
July 25, 2010

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In dissecting how U.S. forces pushed out Taliban forces from the Nawa community in Afghanistan, Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran finds the key to U.S. counterinsurgency success in the dozen southern Afghan communities that allied forces are currently contesting.

The distance from here to success is only 15 miles.

There, in the community of Nawa, a comprehensive U.S. civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy has achieved what seems to be a miracle cure. Most Taliban fighters have retreated. The district center is so quiescent that U.S. Marines regularly walk around without their body armor and helmets. The local economy is so prosperous, fueled by more than $10 million in American agriculture aid, that the main bazaar has never been busier. Now for sale: shiny, Chinese-made motorcycles and mobile phones. There's even a new ice cream shop.

But here in Marja, the same counterinsurgency strategy has not suppressed the insurgent infection. Dozens of Taliban fighters have stayed in the area, and despite aggressive Marine operations to root them out, they have succeeded in seeding the roads with homemade bombs and sniping at patrols. The insurgent presence has foiled efforts to help and protect the civilian population: Taliban threats -- and a few targeted murders -- have dissuaded many residents from availing themselves of U.S. reconstruction assistance.

In my five trips to the area over the past year, Nawa has felt like progress, while Marja still feels like a war zone. Together, they illustrate the promise and limits of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and the central challenge facing the new U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

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